Coronavirus: No new cases of COVID-19 confirmed by Dr Ashley Bloomfield

There have been no new cases of COVID-19 recorded in New Zealand for a second consecutive day, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield confirmed on Tuesday.

One case previously classified as probable has been changed to "not a case", decreasing the country's overall total of confirmed and probable cases by one to 1486. Eighty-eight percent, or 1302 people, have now recovered from the virus.

Four people are currently hospitalised but no patients are in the ICU. 

"Obviously, having zero new cases of COVID-19 to report for a second day in a row is very encouraging. All New Zealanders should feel pleased with their efforts. I certainly do," Dr Bloomfield said during Tuesday's daily press conference.

"We must stick to the plan. The worst thing we could do now is celebrate success early before the full-time whistle blows and jeopardise the gains we have made."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said zero new cases for two consecutive days shows Kiwis are "demonstrating a level of commitment and discipline to our goal of winning the fight against COVID-19". She noted that New Zealanders are all "undeniably proud" of the achievement.

She also said the success of the last two days shows the stringent protocol under the alert level 4 lockdown achieved "exactly what we planned it to do" by breaking the chain of transmission, but warned Kiwis against complacency. One case at one gathering led to multiple clusters, Ardern said, and the same can still happen again.

"Stay home. Stay in your bubble. Maintain physical distancing and let's double down this week to maintain this good run of numbers," she said. 

"As we head towards the level 3 review next week, my message remains: don't do anything that snatches our potential victory at this point."

On Monday, 3232 tests were processed, bringing the overall test total to 155,928.

New Zealand continues to have 16 significant clusters, although three have been closed. Five existing cases have now been linked to the St Margaret's Rest Home cluster. None of these are patients at Waitakere Hospital.

Currently, there are 179 people in quarantine facilities and just under 2800 in managed isolation. Since March 28, around 6000 returned New Zealanders have been placed into quarantine or managed isolation for the mandatory 14-day period after arriving from overseas. Dr Bloomfield reiterated that these measures are crucial to keeping the virus out of New Zealand.

However, exemptions can be applied for, including on compassionate grounds. Twenty-four requests have been received on the basis of visiting a dying relative. A decision not to allow an individual that exemption was overruled by the High Court last week and Dr Bloomfield has since asked his team to review previous similar requests to ensure the correct process was used. He wants this done this week.

Ardern noted there are a range of considerations being discussed, however these will not be decided by the Government, but by those in health weighing up "health and mental health and wellbeing" as compassionate grounds for isolation exemptions. 

The Prime Minister says she has received multiple letters from those who have lost loved ones saying that despite their grief, they believe the restrictions were still the right thing to do.

"That to me demonstrates a huge amount of selflessness," she said.

Dr Bloomfield also gave a shout-out to midwives on International Midwives Day. Tuesday also ironically marks World Hand Hygiene Day. 

"Can I reiterate [Dr Bloomfield's] thanks to our midwives... it is in times like this we acknowledge the role that they play for many mums-to-be within their community and whanau. They always go above and beyond," Ardern said.

"Every day at the moment should be World Hand Hygiene day. It is a very important reminder today of the importance of what is a very simple action that prevents passing on any infection, but in particular... greatly reduces the risk of passing on COVID-19," Dr Bloomfield said.

The Prime Minister also acknowledged the possibility of a trans-Tasman bubble, allowing travel between Australia and New Zealand. Speaking in broad terms, she said: "When we feel comfortable and confident that we won't receive cases from Australia but equally won't export them, then that will be the time to move.

"There is still a lot of work that needs to be done before we can progress an idea like that. It's obviously being floated because of the benefits it would bring."

The Director-General announced zero cases of the disease, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, on Monday. It marked the first time in roughly seven weeks that New Zealand hadn't recorded any new cases.

However, the number of cases being reported over the last few days is still reflective of the results of the alert level 4 lockdown. As symptoms typically don't begin to manifest until roughly six days after infection, someone who could have contracted the virus when the restrictions loosened may only become symptomatic now. If we continue to have small numbers of cases later this week, it will provide greater certainty that there was no spike when we transitioned to level 3.

Dr Bloomfield told The AM Show on Tuesday that New Zealand is still striving towards the goal of elimination - which doesn't mean zero cases, but a small number of a known origin and "zero tolerance". It also means New Zealand has the ability to quickly identify those cases and stamp them out. 

"That is where we want to be. That will allow us to effectively get back to, it will be a new normal, but open up the economy, open up doing all the other things we enjoy doing with each other," he said.

"We are nearly there. We are nearly there."

He called on Kiwis to not "squander" the advantage we have achieved. Alert level 3 rules will remain in place until at least next Monday evening, when the Prime Minister will make a decision alongside Cabinet over whether to extend level 3 or move to level 2.